Retraining of Racehorses: the story of the stellar second career of Marlborough owned & trained racehorse Beware Chalk Pit
Beware Chalk Pit with Rebecca Court
Beware Chalk Pit was twelve years-old when he won the Supreme Champion showing title at the four-day Retraining of Racehorses National Championship Show at Aintree in August last year. He is pictured here with his rider Rebecca Court and garlanded with his awards.
The former National Hunt chaser, a bay gelding by Anshan, came out of training in January 2015. And has made a remarkable switch to the show ring - with Rebecca Court. Marlborough resident Ann Leftley still has an interest in him.
Beware Chalk Pit was bought from Doncaster Store sales as a four year-old and sold on to Peter and Ann Leftley. Trained by Jonathan Geake at East Kennet he went hurdling and then chasing - he won twice and was placed ten times.
From his first appearance at Newbury Racecourse in November 2008, he had 24 starts. He became something of a regular round Plumpton - going to post there thirteen times and sealing his two victories there.
Under the auspices of the national charity Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) he has found a new life after racing. He went to Justine Armstrong-Small's Essex stables and his owner found a very willing rider for him in Rebecca Court. At the stables Beware Chalk Pit has a nickname - Perfect Pete.
Rebecca Court explained the nickname to Horse and Hound: "Beware Chalk Pit has been a superstar from the beginning. He's adapted so well to being a show horse and has such a fabulous temperament, which says a lot about the good grounding he had in his racing life...His nickname is Perfect Pete because he really is - he jumps, I hack him alone in the forest and don't need to ride him everyday."
Sometimes known as Pit, but more appropriately Perfect Pete, his star status has also brought something of a second career for Rebecca. She teaches at the Royal Drawing School in London - and usually rides him out before she leaves for work.
Last year's Retraining of Racehorses National Championship was held over four days with more than 190 horses competing in 72 classes. There were some very famous former racehorses competing in the Elite Series Final to claim the coveted title of Supreme Champion.
Beware Chalk Pit's opposition for that title included Jack the Giant (RoR's 2015 Supreme Champion), Irish challenger Forpadydeplasterer, Monet's Garden (a five time winner at Aintree) and Royal Rock (to whom Beware Chalk Pit had been runner up if RoR's 2015 Champion Novice Final.)
Perfect Pete's Aintree victory tops a string of prizes from 2015 onward - including qualification for the Horse of the Year Show and The Royal International at Hickstead. The RoR Newsletter sums up his second career achievements: "He is a horse in a million and a great advert for RoR."
RoR was launched in 2000 to provide support where it was needed for the retraining and rehoming of former racehorses. It now has 12,000 registered horses on its books and organises events and competitions across just about every equine discipline.
As its chairman, Paul Roy, has said: "This has provided a platform for former racehorses to realise a career beyond racing and our network of regional coordinators are kept extremely busy!"
The RoR class has been a feature of the Barbury International Horse Trials. In 2016 the class was sponsored by the National Trainers Federation and saw Barbury Castle trainer Alan King present the first prize to Wiltshire-based rider Harry Meade and 13 year-old bay gelding Sparky's Reflection - originally trained over hurdles by Henrietta Knight.
Beware Chalk Pit is now leased jointly by Ann Leftley and Rebecca Court. And Mrs Leftley still has horses in training with Jonathan Geake at East Kennet - including Fidelity (a five year-old gelding recently placed at Wincanton and Lingfield) and Micquus (and eight year-old gelding placed at Fontwell in December.)
Historical footnote: The name Beware Chalk Pit has a fixed and prominent place in British racing history. If you go to Farley Mount, four miles west of Winchester, you cannot miss the fine monument to a former horse called - for a very sound reason - Beware Chalk Pit.
As the inscription says: Underneath lies buried a horse, the property of Paulet St. John Esq., that in the month of September 1733 leaped into a chalk pit twenty-five feet deep afoxhuntiing with his master on his back and in October 1734 he won the Hunters Plate on Worthy Downs and was rode by his owner and was entered in the name of "Beware Chalk Pit".
That earlier Beware Chalk Pit has also been honoured in a folk song written by Graham Penny and recorded by the folk group Contraband. The song tells of the amazing and potentially disastrous leap into the pit:
Now Sir Paulet knew of course that no fault lay with the horse,
And for jumping blindly he should take the blame.
He knew by right's he should be dead, of the horse he proudly said,
He shall henceforth be remembered by this name.
Now old Chalky passed away and his master did straightway,
On Farley Mount a monument erect.
But if you should pass this way you may still observe today,
The enduring final mark of this respect.
Like his illustrious predecessor and namesake, the Beware Chalk Pit ridden by Rebecca Court at the RoR Aintree championships certainly deserves a 'mark of respect'.